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Survival Equipment

Eight tips for staying warm when cold weather camping

Eight tips for staying warm when cold weather camping
This tent is designed for winter camping, and cold temperatures.

This tent is designed for winter camping and cold temperatures. (Photo by Bob Patterson)

You don’t want to get cold when you’re camping and the weather gets chilly. Here are some tips to help you stay warm.

by Leon Pantenburg

Winter is my favorite time of year for camping. There are no bugs, you probably won’t get rained on and campsites are generally deserted. But the temperatures can dip dangerously low when the sun goes down, and frostbite and hypothermia are definite possibilities.

Camping is one thing, survival is another. The best way to practice for an emergency bivouac is to go camping during challenging weather.

Here’s the scenario:

You have to evacuate from an area and the weather has turned cold.  The temperatures will drop well below freezing when it gets dark. The wind picks up and it is getting colder by the minute. What can help you stay warm?

Try these simple, common sense tips.

Get out of the wind: A cold wind can suck the heat away from your body, and freezedry your face and fingers. Find some sort of windbreak – trees, a thicket, a terrain feature or something – that will stop the worst of the wind. In deep snow, you may want to burrow down below the surface, or you might want to make a wall out of snow blocks.

Keep the shelter small: Your tent, tarp or other shelter should be small and low to the ground. This will help keep it out of the wind, and also help conserve body heat. A small shelter will heat up and stay much warmer than a larger, more spacious structure.

This shelter used natural materials, a tarp and Les Schwab tire bags.

This shelter used natural materials, a tarp and Les Schwab tire bags.

Have plenty of insulation under your bed: Invest in a good insulated pad to put under your sleeping bag. If there are lots of leaves or pine needles available, pile them under where the floor of the tent will go.

Dress appropriately: Leave the cotton at home, and stick with synthetic and/or wool blends.  Know your fabrics and how to layer clothing for the best body heat regulation. If you’re doing a vigorous activity, remove clothing before starting to sweat. Hot, sweaty clothing will become cold and clammy as soon as you cool down.

Wear wool socks and hat in sleeping bag: Before going to bed, put on a dry, clean base layer. I always put on a pair of clean wool socks and a wool beanie before turning in. It is amazing the difference these two items can make.

Don’t sweat: Learn to layer your clothes, and add and remove them as needed to stay comfortable. If you sweat, your clothes will get hot and uncomfortable, then cold and clammy when you cool down.

Eat high calorie snacks: Snack frequently, and eat something before going to bed. This will keep your metabolism up, and generate more heat.

Drink lots of water and stay hydrated: A dehydrated person can’t stay warm. Make sure you drink lots of liquids. Warm and sugary are good choices. Don’t eat snow – too much may lower your core temperature and lead to further chilling.

Prepare firemaking stuff the night before: Put tinder, kindling and dry firewood in a place where it stays dry and is easy to get to. Then, the warm-up fire in the morning will be quick and easy to get started.

This is basic stay-warm camping 101. Check out winter camping books to learn more. And practice staying warm outdoors before it becomes an emergency!

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1 Comment

  1. Andrew Thomas

    01/10/2016 at 20:41

    I’m not that much used to camping during the winter because of the climate conditions, but reading your tips on how to keep warm during the season is helpful.

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Survival Equipment

Leon Pantenburg is a wilderness enthusiast, and doesn't claim to be a survival expert or expertise as a survivalist. As a newspaperman and journalist for three decades, covering search and rescue, sheriff's departments, floods, forest fires and other natural disasters and outdoor emergencies, Leon learned many people died unnecessarily or escaped miraculously from outdoor emergency situations when simple, common sense might have changed the outcome. Leon now teaches common sense techniques to the average person in order to avert potential disasters. His emphasis is on tried and tested, simple techniques of wilderness survival. Every technique, piece of equipment or skill recommended on this website has been thoroughly tested and researched. After graduating from Iowa State University, Leon completed a six-month, 2,552-mile solo Mississippi River canoe trip from the headwaters at Lake Itasca, Minn., to the Gulf of Mexico. His wilderness backpacking experience includes extended solos through Yellowstone’s backcountry; hiking the John Muir Trail in California, and numerous shorter trips along the Pacific Crest Trail. Other mountain backpacking trips include hikes through the Uintas in Utah; the Beartooths in Montana; the Sawtooths in Idaho; the Pryors, the Wind River Range, Tetons and Bighorns in Wyoming; Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, the Catskills in New York and Death Valley National Monument in southern California. Some of Leon's canoe trips include sojourns through the Okefenokee Swamp and National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia, the Big Black River swamp in Mississippi and the Boundary Waters canoe area in northern Minnesota and numerous small river trips in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest. Leon is also an avid fisherman and an elk, deer, upland game and waterfowl hunter. Since 1991, Leon has been an assistant scoutmaster with Boy Scout Troop 18 in Bend, and is a scoutmaster wilderness skills trainer for the Boy Scouts’ Fremont District. Leon earned a second degree black belt in Taekwondo, and competed in his last tournament (sparring and form) at age 49. He is an enthusiastic Bluegrass mandolin picker and fiddler and two-time finalist in the International Dutch Oven Society’s World Championships.

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